Nestled in a quiet corner of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, far away from the crowds of Chichen Itza and the Riviera Maya, sits the stunning Mayan city of Ek Balam and its gorgeous next-door neighbor, Cenote X’canche.
Climbing to the top of El Torre while visiting Ek Balam and swimming in the cool waters of Cenote X’canche rank among our favorite travel experiences in the Yucatan peninsula–which is extremely high praise considering how much we love the area.
Here’s everything you need to know before visiting these beautiful locations in Mexico for yourself!
Table of Contents
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A Brief History of Ek Balam
Once a thriving Mayan city, construction began on Ek Balam as early as 300 BCE, and the city was potentially occupied as late as 16th century CE.
It was at its height from roughly 770 to 840 CE, and was the home of around 20,000 people.
Eventually, Ek Balam receded into the jungle, and large pockets of its story remain unknown.
Fast forward all the way to the 1980s, and excavations began in the city.
Today, only a small portion (about one square mile) of Ek Balam is excavated, including the impressive El Torre pyramid.
Around 45 structures have been mapped, and around 1 square mile (of approximately 12 square kilometers) of the city can be explored today.
What to Know About Visiting the Ek Balam Ruins
Ready to visit Ek Balam? Here’s what you need to know!
The entrance fee is steep for a Mayan ruin site in Mexico.
To enter Ek Balam, you’ll need to pay 413 pesos (around $22 USD)/person.
When you compare this price to the popular Tulum ruins, which clock in at an 80 peso price tag, Ek Balam is comparatively expensive!
… but it’s 100% worth it.
Truly, visiting Ek Balam is absolutely worth the entrance fee.
The experience is completely different than visiting a highly touristic site like Tulum or Chichen Itza, and it is absolutely magical!
Tickets are cash-only, and there’s no ATM on site.
We recommend having at least 600-700 pesos/person on hand when you arrive, especially if you also plan to visit Cenote X’canche and/or eat lunch on site.
… Also, you’ll need two tickets to enter Ek Balam.
One is paid to the state, and one to a federal agency.
During our Ek Balam visit, both tickets were handled seamlessly with one purchase, so there was no need to think much about it!
You can buy drinks and snacks at Ek Balam if needed.
Near the entrance, there are booths available selling drinks and snack food.
There’s also a small restaurant next to Cenote X’canche–but more on that below.
You can climb the largest pyramid!
Known as El Torre, or The Tower, this structure is one of the largest Mayan ruins to be found on the Yucatan peninsula.
The climb up is steep and tested my fear of heights quite a bit, but the views from the top are well worth the effort.
Be sure to stop on your way up to check some of the incredibly ornate carvings still located on the structure!
… and most of the other structures.
We found that most of the structures in Ek Balam were able to be at least partially climbed, and the various viewpoints provided great angles to admire the rest of the city.
Wear comfortable shoes with good tread.
When scrambling up 30 meters of sometimes slippery steps to reach the top of El Torre, you’ll be glad you have them!
Midday is the most crowded time to visit (but it’s still not bad).
Ek Balam is increasing in popularity, and more and more tours are starting to pop up.
Generally speaking, these tours will reach Ek Balam in the mid-morning, visit the site, and then take people over to Cenote X’canche, so mid-morning and mid-day are the most crowded times to visit.
We visited Ek Balam in the late afternoon and loved it!
There were only about 15-20 other people at the site with us, and there were plenty of moments we were completely alone with the ruins.
All About Cenote X’canche (AKA the Ek Balam Cenote)
Wild and wonderful, Cenote X’canche–sometimes referred to as the Ek Balam Cenote because of its very close location–is among our favorite cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula.
Boasting vivid water, tree roots that snake down the deep, stone walls, rickety wooden staircases, a wooden swing bridge, and iguanas that like to scitter along the walls, it is truly something special.
Cenote X’canche is one of those places where it’s easy to understand why the Mayan religion purports that cenotes are the entrance to the underworld.
Here’s what to know before you (literally) dive in.
It’s required to shower before you enter the cenote.
This is to help protect the fragile ecosystem–similarly, you should not wear sunscreen or bug spray into the cenote (or any cenote, though some are better about enforcing the rule than others).
The showers are located right next door to the cenote, so it’s very easy to pop in before going swimming.
There are lockers onsite, but most people don’t use them.
The typical way to handle your belongings at X’canche appeared to be just finding a dry place along the edge of the cenote and shoving your items to the side there–not unlike many other cenotes we’ve visited!
If you want something a bit more secure, though, there are lockers near the showers.
Restrooms are easy to access.
They’re located less than a 3-minute walk from the cenote.
There’s a restaurant on-site, and it’s a great place for lunch.
We chose to have lunch onsite when visiting Cenote X’canche, in large part because all of the swimming left us starving.
The menu was limited, but the food was excellent and prices great (80-100 MXN, or between $4-6 USD) for a meal–we paid less there than at an average restaurant in Valladolid.
You’ll need to walk, bike, or take a pedicab 2km from the entrance booth to the cenote.
It’s an easy, mostly shady walk down a straight gravel road, and we chose to walk in both directions.
Road bike rentals and pedicabs are easy to come by, though.
The entrance fee is 180 pesos/person (around $10 USD).
The entrance fee is cash-only and there isn’t an ATM onsite, so be sure to come prepared!
We personally paid 80 pesos when we visited, but a reader let us know in the comments that as of 2023, the price has increased to 180 pesos.
You’ll buy tickets just around the corner from the Ek Balam ticket counter.
The entrance booth is located just past the first grouping of souvenir stalls that you pass after buying tickets for Ek Balam–or there’s a more direct path you can take from the parking lot, too.
It’s very easy to access and not far at all from the parking lot!
How to Get to Ek Balam + Cenote X’canche
Despite being a fit further away from the popular Riviera Maya destinations of Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen than Chichen Itza or Coba, Ek Balam is still very simple to access.
Here are the most common options.
We personally drove to Mexico from Valladolid (though here’s a very important tip if you choose this route: rent your car before arriving in Valladolid!) and were thrilled with the choice.
We’ve driven all over the Yucatan peninsula and find the driving extremely easy–definitely easier than driving most places in Europe–and tons of fun.
Managing your own trip to Ek Balam will add lots of flexibility to your day, and be far less stressful than worrying about picking up a taxi after you explore, too.
If you’d like to consider driving to Ek Balam, we recommend searching for rental cars through Discover Cars, which will search multiple companies for your dates to find the best combination of price and rental inclusions for your trip!
Shop rental cars for your day trip to Ek Balam today!
Parking at Ek Balam and Cenote X’canche
There is an easy-to-use, expansive parking lot onsite that you can use for access to both the ruins and the cenote.
Parking is “free”, technically speaking, and there are even signs saying so, but there will be people around who will “watch your car” and expect a small tip in return.
Driving Distance to Ek Balam, Mexico
Ek Balam is located roughly 30 minutes by car from Valladolid, around 2 hours from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Merida.
Want to avoid dealing with logistics but still see the best of Ek Balam and Cenote X’canche?
Taking a tour is the perfect solution: with a tour, your day is virtually guaranteed to run smoothly, people who know exactly where they’re going will be in charge of your transportation, and you’ll have a guide to show you the best of Ek Balam.
The downside, of course, is that you’ll be running on someone else’s schedule and usually spend a bit more out of pocket–but if you’d rather kick back and relax than negotiate with taxi drivers or drive yourself, it’s the perfect solution.
This tour covers your transportation from Cancun, tickets to Ek Balam and a cenote (though not X’canche), and a guided tour, and is a good option.
Book your guided day trip to Ek Balam today!
If you happen to be staying in Valladolid, it’s incredibly easy to grab a taxi for Ek Balam (there are several taxi stands in the city, but the one right in front of the cathedral in the Zocalo is probably the easiest to find, and almost always has a few drivers around).
If you’re staying on the Riviera Maya, a taxi will set you back a pretty penny, but is technically still an option (though not one we’d recommend–at that point, you’re better off with a tour).
Collectivos, or shared taxis, are far cheaper than booking a private taxi, but the trade-off is that they only leave when they’re full.
If you’re a budget traveler staying in Valladolid, though, they can be a great option–especially since the “collectivos” that head to Ek Balam aren’t 15-passenger vans like in many areas, but compact cars.
What to Pack for Ek Balam + Cenote X’canche
Wondering what to bring with you when heading out on a day trip to Ek Balam and Cenote X’canche?
Here’s what we recommend.
Just aim for something comfortable to wear, not flashy, and medium-sized–we used a Northface Jester backpack for years and loved it as well.
Sunscreen — Sunscreen isn’t allowed in Cenote X’canche in order to preserve the fragile environment, but you’ll definitely want to have some on when visiting Ek Balam!
Purell Hand Sanitizer — We carry this everywhere, and never been sorry to have it floating around in our day bag.
Hat + Sunglasses — Be sure to protect yourself from the sun!
The walks to and from Ek Balam and Cenote X’canche are fairly shaded, but the ruins themselves are primarily in direct sunlight.
Bathing Suit — Don’t miss a chance to go swimming in Cenote X’canche!
Even if you’re not sure if you want to swim, we recommend bringing it–after sweating through your Ek Balam tour, you might be glad you have it.
Towel — If you prefer not to drip-dry (or collapse into a hammock for half an hour to dry) after visiting Cenote X’canche, you’ll want to be sure to throw a towel into your day bag.
Bug Spray — Heading into the jungle to explore Mayan ruins practically guarantees a few mosquito bites, but you can avoid the worst of it with bug spray!